The Iberville Parish Council approved a one-year halt on new construction on the east side of the Mississippi River, a move that mirrors similar proposals in nearby parishes following severe flash flooding from heavy rains last month.
Council members unanimously approved the temporary hold on subdivision plats and site development plans for land within unincorporated areas of the parish near St. Gabriel during at times tense meeting Tuesday night.
Several weeks after the region was hammered by torrential rainfall that caused damaging floods last month, high waters still surround homes in communities around St. Gabriel and the Spanish Lakes area.
The decision will allow the parish to assess how recent development is impacting drainage, which in turn is worsening flash floods that threatens the safety of residents, parish leaders say.
At times, the meeting descended into profanity-laced shouting matches between frustrated residents and parish council members, as well as vocal resistance from housing developers with ongoing projects.
"We've had four weeks of water going up and down," said Jeremy Cronen, 40, who in Meadows Oaks in St. Gabriel. "Now this weekend I am scared sh***less because we have between five and 10 inches coming from a tropical depression."
A tropical depression has been forming in the Gulf of Mexico, which forecasters say could come to South Louisiana sometime Friday.
Concerns about roads overburdened with traffic and drainage have prompted a handful of local governments across the Baton Rouge region to consider building moratoriums of one kind or another in the years since the August 2016 flood and, more recently, the flash floods of mid-May.
In the fall of 2017, former East Baton Rouge Parish Councilman Buddy Amoroso proposed a six-month building moratorium on construction in low-laying areas that were especially vulnerable to flooding. The parish meanwhile worked on flood plain rules.
That effort failed amid homebuilder opposition. But City-Parish Councilwoman Chauna Banks, who was the only vote to join Amoroso at the time, has renewed that push recently.
Earlier this month, Banks proposed more targeted pauses on development that specific neighborhoods could seek until the city-parish has improved its drainage.
Last July, the Tangipahoa Parish government instituted what ended up being a six-month halt on new lots for larger scale residential developments south of Interstate 12. Parish leaders used that time could update building rules related to drainage.
Severe flooding in the low-lying areas closest to lakes Maurepas and Pontchartrain was the major concern driving that move.
On Thursday, Ascension Parish government is poised to adopt a moratorium on new residential and commercial growth. The ban would be a sweeping, one-year halt on new land divisions for those kinds of developments but wouldn't stop construction on existing lots already on the books.
Ascension has flirted with various kinds of development halts before. In early 2016, a moratorium was considered while the council pushed for road impact fees, which were adopted, rendering the moratorium idea moot.
A few years later, the council banned the use of dirt fill, a way of slowing new growth in flood-prone areas.
The latest moratorium proposal has come at the urging of Parish President Clint Cointment. He made the call after the flooding in May inundated an estimated 160 homes and trapped people in new neighborhoods that were supposed to have been built under the latest development standards.
When asked about the other parishes considering similar pauses, Cointment said Tuesday local leaders recognize that changing weather requires a change in how people build.
"Look, what you're noticing is that the standards in development are not adequate for the weather pattern we're getting. Record number of storms last year, record number of rainfalls this year and who knows what we've got coming this weekend," Cointment said. "But you know it is inadequate. It is deficient and we need to make changes now. We should not have a new subdivision be approved without adequate drainage standards, period."
Homebuilders have opposed the moratoriums, saying they hurt jobs and are counterproductive to the goal of improving how the parish grows.
Cointment has countered that parish staff have calculated that builders have a three-year supply of about 2,000 neighborhood lots, not including individual acreage sites and those in the municipalities.
"You have to have the inventory there, or you are going to price out quality residents," said Karen Zito, president and chief executive officer of the Homebuilders Association of Greater Baton Rouge.
Developers with housing projects in the area defended their proposal, saying they had to meet steep requirements from the City of St. Gabriel and Iberville Parish.
Iberville Parish chairman Mathew Jewell said the parish needs to slow down and assess its problems.
"Can you guarantee the people who buy your house that that water is going to stay out of there?" Jewell asked developers who spoke against the moratorium. "I don't think you can. Not with the current problems we're having with water coming from our neighboring parishes, drowning us every year."